SUMMERVILLE - Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to the South Carolina Lowcountry where his 2012 run for president started on a high note before ending with a thud.
This time, he's officially in the visitation stage but his stops at Patriots Point, a speaking round-table and rubbing elbows at a Dorchester County GOP barbecue all point to him setting the groundwork for another White House run.
"We have today in Washington, D.C., a dysfunctional government," Perry told about 300 people during a fundraiser Tuesday for the Dorchester County Republican Party at the Summerville Country Club. He targeted the Obama administration and what he identified as wrongs with the current state of the nation's affairs, from foreign policy around the globe, to troubles at the IRS and with helping veterans at home.
During the previous presidential race, Perry had been the hot Republican commodity for a brief while. His official announcement speech declaring that he was joining the 2012 Republican field came at a downtown Charleston gathering of the conservative blogger group RedState, in August 2011.
But after a rocky campaign that featured some "oops" moments and a debate stage flub that included drawing a famous blank on what federal agencies he wanted to see cut, Perry ended his campaign in another South Carolina ballroom, this time inside a North Charleston hotel.
"There is no viable path forward for me," he said at the time, exiting the stage just two days before the South Carolina presidential primary.
On Tuesday, Perry was retrospect about that run.
"It wasn't the ending we wanted," Perry told The Post and Courier exclusively. "We weren't prepared. In hindsight, I look back now I wasn't healthy, I wasn't prepared. And if I decide to do it again, I will be," he said.
Perry pointed to major back surgery that he'd had back then that didn't heal quickly. "I was 62-years-old and thought I was 10-foot-tall and bulletproof," he said.
If Perry does join what is expected to be a crowded GOP field, College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said Perry's previous early departure won't necessarily diminish the possibility of a second chance with South Carolina voters.
"You can certainly come back in American politics," Knotts said. "Reagan didn't win the first time he ran."
Perry's strength remains that he has previous executive level experience as the governor of Texas, Knotts said, which seems to be a favorite post among GOP voters looking for a White House horse. "I think it makes sense for him to come here," he added.
Perry repeatedly spoke words of praise toward Gov. Nikki Haley, who attended the Summerville event, specifically in terms of competition for business.
"Every big deal we're working on, South Carolina is in the mix," he said, pointing to the state's recruitment landscape.
Haley returned the favor, calling Perry a fighter, a patriot and "a good friend."
Perry said he wouldn't decide on a presidential run until next year.
While Perry spoke of the nation's ills, Republicans at the event weren't ready to automatically throw their support his way. Most said it's too early in the process and the field is far from set.
"We got to figure out the person to beat Hillary," said GOP voter Bryant Johnson of North Charleston.
Former Charleston County GOP leader Lin Bennett said she is ready to at least give Perry another look, saying the campaign of 2012 is history.
"I think he bombed so badly because he jumped in too late and too fast," she said.
Former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson was traveling with Perry on his two-day swing through the state which finishes Wednesday with a fundraiser barbecue in the Upstate with U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-5th District. Dawson said all signs point to Perry having unfinished business here.
"He wants to come to South Carolina and reconnect from the last time, because (two years ago) we left in a hurry," Dawson said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551